Two central themes to 2018: Women and defenders of Trump

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Just over 12 hours passed between the time President Trump tweeted his support for Katie Arrington’s primary bid in South Carolina and when he took credit for her victory. It’s very unlikely that his endorsement, coming only three hours before polls closed, actually made much of a difference. But that’s not how Trump presented it early Wednesday morning.

“My political representatives didn’t want me to get involved in the Mark Sanford primary thinking that Sanford would easily win — but with a few hours left I felt that Katie was such a good candidate, and Sanford was so bad, I had to give it a shot,” he wrote. “Congrats to Katie Arrington!”

There is a near-zero chance that Trump tweeted what he did thinking that Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) was cruising to an easy win, but that’s beside the point. What’s notable about Arrington’s victory is that she encapsulates two of the central themes of the 2018 midterms to date: She is a Republican who enthusiastically supports Trump — and she is a woman.

Sanford earned Trump’s ire for his sharp criticisms of the president. Shortly after Trump took office, Sanford referred to himself as a “dead man walking,” recognizing that bucking Trump bore political risks. On losing, he said that he could “stand by every one of those decisions to disagree with the president.”

Arrington, on winning, declared that “we are the party of President Donald J. Trump.”

This is not the first time that a Trump critic has paid a political cost. In Alabama, Rep. Martha Roby (R) was forced into a runoff to defend her House seat after having condemned Trump following the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape in October 2016.

Nor is it the first time that a fervent Trump supporter has managed an unexpected victory. In Virginia on Tuesday, former gubernatorial candidate Corey Stewart narrowly won the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate and will face off against Democratic incumbent Sen. Tim Kaine in November. Stewart, who once served on the Trump campaign, earned a tweet of support from the president as well — despite Stewart’s controversial embrace of the state’s Confederate history.

Incumbent politicians pay close attention to how the winds are blowing, and among Republicans, the breeze is to Trump’s back. On the other side of the aisle, the pattern is — understandably — quite different.

This year has seen a record surge in women running for the House and the Senate, as data from Rutgers University’s Center for American Women and Politics makes clear. The spikes on the charts below are the increase in women running for seats in Congress. Nearly three times as many women are running this year for both the House and Senate as have run in any year since 1974.


Not only are they running, but they’re winning. Tuesday’s primary results bolstered that trend, with women winning Democratic House primaries in Maine, Nevada (in two districts), South Carolina and Virginia (six districts). Women won Republican House primaries in Virginia, Nevada and, of course, South Carolina.

Some of those victors were incumbents, including the Democratic victor in North Dakota’s Senate primary, Heidi Heitkamp. But, particularly on the left, women are running strong even when they aren’t defending their current seats. Cook Political Report’s Dave Wasserman articulated that point in a compact bit of data.

So far, according to the CAWP data, 132 women (38 of them incumbents) have won House primaries this year. Of those, 106 were Democrats. On the Senate side, five women have won primaries, four of them Democrats.


It’s hard to notice that these two 2018 themes overlap, so let’s notice it. Part of the surge in women filing to run for office this year stems from the emergence of the #MeToo effort, of course, but the strength of that effort itself derives from the heightened importance of gender issues in politics that followed from Trump’s victory in 2016. #MeToo has spurred a broad public reckoning, but that is in part a function of the political organization and energy that was first demonstrated on streets in American cities the day after Trump was inaugurated. Women are engaged in politics to some non-trivial extent because of Trump.

Republican candidates may not embrace all of Trump’s policies, but they recognize that bucking the president can have a political cost. Democrats are increasingly picking women to represent them in November. Those two trends are helping to define partisanship in this year’s midterms.

Katie Arrington is both a representative of those trends and an exception to it.